Sunscreen Choices Redux
My pal Caryn wrote today, looking for a post I wrote a while back about my struggle with the question of daily sunscreen use. What’s worse, I wondered (and still do): the chemicals seeping into our skin, day after day after day? Or the dangers of sun exposure? Ever since our move to San Diego in the fall of 2006, these questions have plagued me. My kids wear hats some of the time, and I know keeping covered is the best course of action, but still: it’s short-sleeve weather here almost all year round. And hats aren’t always preferable. I can’t stand wearing a hat, myself. But we’re all fair-skinned (one of us even has albinism!) and one of us is a cancer survivor, and, and, and…I always come back to: OK, sunscreen: which one?
In the comments of that old post, a couple of people linked to the EWG Skin Deep website which ranks sunscreens based on sun protection and lack of nasty chemicals. The rankings have been updated for 2009, and there is some helpful information on the site about the difference between UVA and UVB rays (most sunscreens only protect against UVB, the rays which cause sunburn, but UVA rays are the ones that can cause skin cancer) and the hazards of certain chemicals found in many sunscreens, including oxybenzone (which I was was dismayed to see is an ingredient in the the product I’ve been using this past year, a Philosophy brand sunscreen I spent too much money on).
(Hefty price tags are the one thing most of these products seem to have in common, no matter how they’re ranked. Sigh.)
Also ranked are daily moisturizers containing SPF. This was of even more interest to me than the sunscreen evaluation, since the result of that previous round of questioning had led me to switch the kids to UV Natural, a sunscreen I read about in the Chinaberry catalog. It has a rating of 1 (0 is best, 10 is worst) from EWG. We have also used Burt’s Bee’s Chemical Free Sunscreen, which only scores a 4 in the ranking, but the only con listed is fragrance. (Another chemical? Not likely with that brand, right?)
So for the kids, I felt like I’d found some decent options. (California Baby and Badger are also ranked very high in the 2009 list, and I happened to pick up a tube of California Baby Sunscreen Lotion No Fragrance at Target today. We haven’t tried it yet to see if it leaves a residue like some of them do. (Caryn mentioned that the Neutrogena brand she tried on her little guy leaves a white zinc-y residue.)
But I’m still looking for the perfect daily SPF-containing moisturizer. I have dry skin and really need a good moisturizer. (I still lament the loss of the brilliant Carrot Moisture Cream that The Body Shop used to sell.) It seems silly to use moisturizer and sunscreen: two face creams? Who has time for that? I share Alton Brown’s distaste for the unitasker.
Around the time of that first sunscreen post, I’d been briefly interested in the SPF-containing mineral foundations that everyone was talking about—Bare Minerals and that ilk. I hadn’t worn makeup in nearly 20 years at that point, but the Bare Minerals hype made it sound pretty appealing. Glowing skin and SPF? And minerals—so good for you, right? But then I read all about how Bare Minerals contain bismuth, which seemed alarming, and my hasty explorations of the various bismuth-free mineral foundations left me muddled and overwhelmed. Too expensive, too much work, too many little brushes to clutter up the bathroom.
It’s worth noting that the powder foundations like Bare Minerals are strongly advised against by the Skin Deep folks because not only do you wind up absorbing chemicals through your skin, you inhale the tiny particles as well. This blindingly obvious fact which had not previously occurred to me made me laugh and laugh. Oh the endless ways there are to ingest toxins nowadays!
Anyway, back I went to a face cream (another Body Shop cream but, sadly, nowhere near as lovely as the old carrot cream) and a separate sunscreen—the Philosophy one I splurged on because it didn’t smell like sunscreen at all. That tube has lasted me a year, and just last week I bit the bullet and reordered—and now I see it gets a lousy 5 in the EWG ranking because of oxybenzone. I haven’t opened the tube yet; I think I’ll return it.
But what to use instead? Why do these things have to be so crazy expensive? A jar or tube of any of the brands listed in the top ten on EWG’s “Best Moisturizers with Sunscreen” list will run you upwards of $30. That’s nuts, isn’t it?
And then there’s the whole question of nanoparticles, which—well, here. In brief, EWG recommends against nanoparticle-containing cosmetics such as eye shadow, but—to the surprise of its researchers—found in favor of sunscreens containing nanoparticles of zinc and/or titanium, on the grounds that whatever health risks may be associated with nanotechnology, they are less serious than the risks posed by UVA exposure.
Listen to me talking like some kind of beauty blogger. Ha, far from it: I’m just a fair-skinned, freckled 40-year-old who lives in a sunny climate. So: have any of you tried any of the products on this list? Or does the idea of shelling out that kind of dough make you howl with laughter?